This is what springtime looks like in a basement pottery studio. If only I could get my outdoor flower beds to be this plentiful. And if only I could put these in the veggie garden to attract pollinators!
Do you see that blob? That's where one of my kiln elements broke and melted during my last firing, which happened only 8 months and 55 firings after the elements were replaced. And although the tech support from L&L Kilns assured me that some people burn out their elements much faster than that, I'm still bummed. The original set of elements that came with the kiln lasted for over 200 firings. But back then I wasn't making pots full-time, and firing much less frequently. The second set lasted for 120, which is about normal for a cone 6 studio. So truthfully, 55 is really bad. I guess the difference is mostly due to the volume of making pots full-time. These days, I sometimes unload a kiln while it's still about 200°F, so I can fire it again asap. I've been meeting all of my wholesale deadlines comfortably. I could probably afford not to be in such a hurry, and give my elements a break.
I'm not completely satisfied with the volume explanation, because do you see how distorted and crooked the elements look near the break? The rest of the element looks much better than that. So do the other 5 elements. There is another change I made to my kiln recently ... in January I bought new plate setters, which allow me to fire multiple plates in a very compact and dense stack. I always placed the stack right next to where this element broke. Hmmm. I know an uneven load causes your kiln to work unevenly. Maybe this stack of plates has a lot more mass than I realized. I should keep the stack further away from the elements from now on.
The good news is that because the remaining elements are only 55 firings old, it should be ok for me to replace only the broken element and its zone mate, rather than all 6. At $50 each, that's a relief.
I stole this line from a brilliant video featuring poet/teacher Taylor Mali, which you'll just have to watch to get the full context. It'll be worth 3 minutes of your time, promise. (I first saw this video on one of my favorite pottery blogs)
I have honesty on my mind today because I was asked to jury a show at the Scope Gallery in the Torpedo factory. I did this once before, about two years ago. Back then I didn't like everything I saw, including the work of an adorable elderly potter, who was present for my feedback, so I had to criticize her to her face. That didn't feel good. I was worried I had been too mean. But then one of the potters-in-charge asked if I could recommend other jurors who would be like me. And now two years later, they asked me to do it again. This time I knew I didn't have to feel bad for being honest. And none of the potters were present for their feedback, except for Karen Abromaitis who was scribing my thoughts, but lucky for me I think her work is pretty stellar. So I felt free to let them have it. There was lots of pottery worthy of high praise. And some pots that were so crummy that my students would have recycled them. Some that I had criticized two years ago, which had grown and improved by a lot. One or two who took a step back, in a search for new direction. Some that I had praised, but still the artist advanced and evolved anyways (now that's a true artist). I know some of them won't be happy with me, but that's ok, even if they don't ask me to come back again.
Going through this makes me hate J.Lo and Steven Tyler even more for ruining American Idol, with their excessive and gushing praise of mediocre singing. If I can rip a little old lady, and live to tell about it, they can do their jobs too!!
Mea Rhee, the potter behind Good Elephant Pottery
American Craft Council
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